Weathering the Storms: 103 Years as an American Family Business

Weathering the Storms: 103 Years as an American Family Business

It’s been four years since I started working with my father, Michael, in our family business. I’ve learned so much from him during this time, and I’ve been incredibly grateful for his guidance and mentorship. Today, we find ourselves in a place that none of us could have imagined back in summer 2016: facing a global pandemic and trying to navigate what our collective “new normal” might be.

I sat down with Michael recently to talk about how he, his dad, my grandad, and great-grandad, have weathered various storms throughout Korchmar’s 103-year history. I thought I’d share a few encouraging accounts of how our small family business has fought through and triumphed in times of adversity over the past century.

Korchmar was founded in 1917, just 12 years before the Great Depression. My great-grandfather, Max, had established Korchmar as a successful business handcrafting and selling leather lamp visors, thermos cases, and 'suitcase corners' for trunks and hard-sided luggage. With the evaporation of retail during the Great Depression, Max had to pivot the business from retail to government contracts to stay afloat. This shift in the company’s focus and strategy served Korchmar well as the next major storm, WWII, presented itself in the late 1930s. There was a particular need during this time for government-issued briefcases and bags and we thrived as a central supplier. But when the war came to an end, so did most of Korchmar’s government contracts as there was no longer demand for the same cases and accessories.

After serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII, my grandfather, Don Korchmar, returned from the military to join the family business, which was nearly in ruin. With limited to no opportunity to continue executing government contracts, Don decided to refocus the company on retail markets. He was a truly brilliant engineer, and under his leadership, Korchmar became the most efficient producer of leather business cases in the world. By the early 1960s, we had established dominance in the retail markets and Korchmar was the largest producer of leather cases in the world.

My father, Michael, saw events like the oil crisis of the 1970s and unrest in the Middle East throughout the 1980s present significant global economic challenges that required Korchmar to make adjustments to survive during downturns.  Whether it was through the acquisition of other companies in extended markets or the development of contract-specific accessories, Korchmar endured. Michael also led the company through the devastating events of September 11, 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008.

Today, as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, I am committed to looking toward the future with a spirt of hope and optimism. This is not to say that navigating this terrain will be easy -- it won’t be. But my conversation with my dad did offer hope that we will see brighter days.

While Korchmar has faced severe hardship in many forms over the past century, as a family and a family business, we are committed to staying positive, sticking together, and employing creativity, resilience and determination to charter the most difficult waters. We hope that you and yours are able to do the same. For the past 103 years, it’s been our customers and community that have seen us through, and we are immensely grateful.

We are in this together, and we thank you for your support.